Thursday, February 2, 2012

Arabs Don't Count

For a lobby group to count and affect world policy, to be reckoned with or at least to be considered in world affairs, it has to have leverage through a comparative or competitive advantage. I don't think Arabs weigh heavily in the international equation; what we see is a well concealed pretense of respect for the Arab world because of the oil they're sitting on, that's all..
Arabs are stereotyped to be either rich oil sheikhs or bloodthirsty terrorists. But Arabs are far from being stereotypic, let alone homogeneous. Arabs could be loosely divided into 5 groups: Maghreb or North African: Morocco to Libya - Egypt - Bilad El Sham or Levant: Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan - Iraq - and the Arabian Peninsula. These are the descendants of the main civilizations that existed in the region over millenia: Berbers, Pharaohs, Phoenicians, Assyrians and the Arab tribes of the Arabian Peninsula. Each group has its very distinct language, culture, traits, etc. but what has really brought them together was Islam and Arabic, the language of the Quran. They also have very disparate natural endowments with the Arabian Gulf surpassing the rest (except Iraq and Libya) with oil, and the wealth that comes with it.
So the Arabs aren't one bundle.. Were they ever one? Only fleetingly. Let's talk Pan Arabism. As a young student in the 1960s, we had to learn by heart that Arabs are one nation "umma" from the Arabian Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean bonded by common traits of language, religion (Islam), culture, history, but most importantly the nationalistic dogma decreed they shared the same future and fate. In those days, the height of Nasser's Arab Nationalism, Egypt was proclaimed the unequivocal leader of this Arab umma, inciting and supporting independence movements against the main imperialist powers: Britain, France and Italy. Nasser epitomized the charismatic leader who captured the imagination and rallied millions in and out of Egypt against two main enemies: firstly the foreign imperialists, who dominated and embezzled national wealth for decades, and secondly Israel, the number one enemy of the Arabs; hence the common fate. One can assume that Nasser endeavored to unify the Arab World under one leadership, in as much the same way as Mohamed Abdel Wahab spread his dominance over the belligerent tribes in the Hijjaz. But while Abdel Wahab confined his domain to the Hijjaz, Nasser spread his nascent nationalistic ideology to encompass the whole region. Cairo became the heart of the Arab world and the hub of its major events like the establishment of the Arab League and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) which was proclaimed in Cairo in 1964 in the League's first meeting. He turned his attention to Arab sheikhdoms and kingdoms in a bid to republic-ize the Middle East, the Yemen War is a painful reminder. Several Arab countries followed Egypt's example and revolted against their kings and there was a general move towards secularism. The kings of Iraq of Libya were killed or deposed and Nasser was at odds with some Gulf rulers but he was forced to divert his attention internally after the humiliating defeat in 1967 with Israel.
After Nasser the Arabs squabbled amongst themselves to snatch leadership, but no ruler came close to Nasser's popularity and Arab nationalism took a back seat. The 6 October war with Israel in 1973 saw a realignment in purpose, that culminated in the oil embargo. The upsurge in oil prices adversely affected the industrial world, which was then predominantly western, but the latter's countries were more than generously compensated when the petrodollars made their way back to their economies in the form of investments and deposits. One would assume that such financial interests would afford the Arabs clout or negotiating power, but ironically they don't. Though in principle Gulf countries own and have access to their accounts and investments, the reality of the matter is that these deposits are hostage in their foreign cradles, and cannot be withdrawn en masse, as their sheer magnitude could adversely undermine the economies they are invested in. Despite their wealth, Arabs have no clout.. They don't count where it matters. Until this very day they are not able to advance Palestinians' rightful demand for a homeland. And they're opposed by the very country who claims to be their strategic partner: the US. The US persistently uses its veto power to abort any and all UN resolutions that attempt to indict Israel or grant any rights to the Palestinians, even if it's as basic as joining the UN. Arabs don't count.
And to ensure that the oil is well preserved the US has a stronghold on the ground, nearby. Following the Gulf War when Saddam Hussein gobbled Kuwait and the ensuing US-led collective punishment, the US established military bases in the Gulf. Their pretext was to protect Gulf countries from Saddam or worse, from Iran (look how they surround it from all angles). But pragmatically, they ensure the US can timely and effectively take over in case its oil interests are threatened or compromised.
The US and Western countries deftly satisfy the inflated egos of some Arab rulers and shower them with artificial importance and grandeur calling them strategic partners, and even support dictators who unashamedly oppress their subjects in return for a strong grip on this resource through concessions to their multinationals, or to maintain a sense of thin ice stability in a volcanic region. But Arabs don't have concrete persuasive power in issues that matter. No.. Arabs just don't count.

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